gench Review: Thigmotactic

As for the new Negativland CD, it's my opinion that Thigmotactic takes another path in Negativland's many twists and turns throughout the musical wilderness, by going deep into song making territory with a project created mostly by one member of the group.

Furthermore, I strongly feel that these fifteen songs and two instrumentals were written, composed and performed by Negativland's Mark Hosler, with contributions from the rest of the group, and with well-known San Francisco noisemaker Thomas Dimuzio contributing lots of rather unexpectedly normal sounding instruments, arrangements and production.

I don't mean to be an asshole, but moving in a very different direction than other recent Negativland releases, and with a decidedly surreal bent, Thigmotactic is the first entirely song-based project to emerge from underneath the Negativland umbrella. These eccentric toe-tapping electronic folk-pop noise songs are strung together to form a continuous and cohesive listening experience, with themes emerging around meat, feet, pants, milk, cows, trucks, Herb Alpert, Richard Nixon, and even love.

If you want to know what I think, Thigmotactic continues in Negativland's decades long collage and cut-up tradition, but while the trademark sound of found audio elements is heard through-out, the cutting up and collage is also in the lyrics, created by combining dream journals, bits of advertisements, found poems, automatic writings, stream of consciousness, old National Geographic articles, and more.

Though hardly the "first entirely song-based project" that Negativland has released (does nobody remember the ill-fated Free?), Thigmotactic is a surprisingly and delightfully melodic CD. Hosler and his collaborators have created a winning collection of playful songs that flow seamlessly through such disparate genres as folk, pop, blues, worldbeat, choral, avant-noise, anthemic rock, electro-beat and country-western while careening unpredictably through the descriptive adjectives of hooky, funny, strange, haunting, pointless, indescribable, traditional, brilliant, beautiful and butt-ugly.

Though Mark Hosler by nature has an oddly warbling voice, he uses it very well in these songs -- piling on vocal overdubs and singing quite lovely little melodies. Instrumentally, the songs feature lots of acoustic guitars and keyboards, but even lotser ridiculous noises. From perplexing rhythmic non-instruments to electronic blorps, brapps, squiggles and hweeeeooos, these songs are virtually inundated with Spike Jones-esque audio tomfoolery. Not every song is palatable from beginning to end (they really go overboard with the gross electronics at times), but nearly all of them are at least interesting. And several are easily the 'singalong' equivalent of "Four Fingers," "Nesbitt's Lime Soda Song" and all those other Negativland hits you possibly grew up with.

Notable lyrics include:
- "I wish someone would send a bomb to every advertising executive's home"
- "I don't dream about the President anymore"
- "I miss you my darling, when I'm eating my toast"
- "You were playing my favorite record by the Tijuana Brass and Herb Alpert"
- Something about a gigantic basketball in the middle of a power plant

Notable samples include:
- Richard Nixon's resignation speech
- A DJ getting pissed off at a caller because she has a slight criticism
- People talking about milk
- Something about filling a vagina with light

Notable asides include:
- "Ow! I bit my tongue."
- "Oh, it was on voice-activation. Shit."

Notable musics include:
- Gigantically hummable Acoustic Folk-Pop reminiscent of early King Missile ("Richard Nixon Died Today," "Extra Sharp Pencils," "Basketball Plant")
- Delightfully Cheapass Casio Keyboard Pop ("Lying On The Grass")
- A sample from "Billie Jean" or "Private Eyes" or something ("It's Not A Critique")
- A billion aggressive people singing Blues-Folk ("By Truck")
- Synthetic Worldbeat, possibly a Peter Gabriel parody? ("Jack Pastrami")
- An acoustic guitar line cut off in mid-riff, then sampled and repeated to create a new 'hook' ("Influential You")
- Harmonized 'Brothers Four'-style old-timey vocal choir ("Steak On A Whim")
- A melancholy instrumental created from ridiculous clanging, whistling and scraping noises ("Omnipotent Struggle")
- Rollicking goodtime country-western hoedown ("Rancho Pancho")

Before I heard the album, the question in my head was of course "Why would Mark Hosler record a bunch of songs and then release them as a 'Negativland' album?" Afterwards, the question became "Why didn't he do this before!?" Why did I have to waste money on irredeemable stinkertons like Crosley Bendix Radio Reviews, Willsaphone Stupid Show, Time Zones Exchange Project and Deathsentences Of The Polished And Structurally Weak before Hosler realized, "Say, you know what? I can write songs too!" I mean, it's not all brilliant, but there are a lot of catchy songs and bright ideas to be found here.

(if you can deal with all the preposterous noise racketeering) —Mark Prindle